It's pretty simple: "Fortunate Son" is a protest song written by a Vietnam-era veteran in support of the men who served and against the children of privilege who evaded the draft.
Why are we having this conversation (again) in 2014? Because Zac Brown, Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen performed John Fogerty's song Tuesday night at HBO's Concert for Valor on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Let's go to the videotape:
The concert on Tuesday was a huge production, drawing other big-name acts like Metallica, Eminem, Rihanna, Carrie Underwood, the Black Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Jessie J. Celebrities like Meryl Streep, Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, George Lopez and John Oliver (who's married to a veteran) were there to introduce filmed profiles on individuals who served. When Zac brought out Dave and Bruce and they launched into the song, I noticed the choice of song but didn't think anyone would pick up on the message.
They didn't. What I was expecting was the incredibly ignorant reactions that showed up in my social media feeds. Both liberal ("songs like 'Fortunate Son' and 'Born in the USA' criticize the armed forces") and conservative media outlets ("Bruce Springsteen and friends are catching heat from conservatives after performing Creedence Clearwater’s Revival’s draft-dodging anthem 'Fortunate Son' at the Concert for Valor in D.C. on Tuesday") either can't comprehend the song or willfully misrepresent its message.
When John Fogerty wrote the song in 1969, draft deferments were on every young man's mind. Unlike previous 20th century conflicts, it seemed like the government was handing out exemptions and delays to anyone with the resources to meet the low standards for getting one. The result was that less than 10% of men in the Vietnam generation served in the military (according to the VA website). That's in sharp contrast to World War II, when over half of eligible men served. We went from an era where every single family had a direct connection to the risk and sacrifice of the war to one where children of privilege could dodge that responsibility.
Get that straight: "Fortunate Son" is an attack on children of privilege ("Senator's son," "millionaire's son") who used that privilege to dodge the draft. It's an anti-draft dodger song. Yeah, there is that line in the last chorus about "military son," but any Vietnam vet will be able to tell you about the stories floating around back then that senior military personnel were using their influence to keep their own children out of harm's way while sending thousands of others into battle.
And why is this relevant in 2014? Because less than 0.5% of Americans now serve in the military and an overwhelming number of Americans have absolutely no direct connection to men or women who've served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans Day is a moment when those people get to throw off a "Thank you for your service" and feel like they support the men and women who serve without making any real sacrifices themselves.
Bruce Springsteen grew up in the Vietnam era. No matter what some of you might think about his politics, he's always had a strong connection to working-class Americans and veterans causes. Both Zac Brown and Dave Grohl have been shining examples for younger rock and country stars in support of men and women who serve.
I first heard "Fortunate Son" when I was six or seven years old, around the time when a lot of my extended family were returning from tours in Vietnam. I was a little kid, but even I could recognize that it was angrier and more passionate than other songs on the radio. "Fortunate Son" accomplished two things for me: it planted the idea that a song could communicate an important idea (something that led to my career in music) and planted the idea that men and women who serve don't always get a fair shake from the culture at large (something that directly led me to work at Military.com).
"Fortunate Son" is not an anti-military song. Here's the message I got when I was a little kid and here's the message I heard on Tuesday night: if a country's going to risk the lives of its children in its own defense, then every citizen of that country should share that risk in some way.